We Get Letters, Lots of Letters (Well, not Lots …)

QandA logoDear Coach Ruis,

I am happy to report that I have just obtained my Level 3-NTS certification. However, a lot of the details I learned in the class are confusing me.

The NTS tells archers to use an open stance. When I asked the instructor about closed stance vs. open stance, she told me that closed stance should never be used because it’s “not as stable” as the open stance. I didn’t understand why, and I don’t really buy that argument, but I am inclined to believe it. What can you tell me about the credibility of open stance versus closed stance? I remember you advocating for a closed stance because it helps people reach full draw, but does it really make you less stable than open stance?

Moreover, I learned that the NTS tells archers to forcefully curl their fingers to feel tension in their bow arm. But isn’t the bow arm and hand supposed to be completely relaxed?

Finally, the course PowerPoint mentioned that archers should constantly buy equipment to keep up to date with new advances in equipment. But if equipment works perfectly well, isn’t there no need to update it?

On the side, the instructor told me that limbs must never be twisted to any degree, and that they must be in perfect alignment. But I remember you mentioning that twisted limbs were acceptable; now I am confused. Are there times when twisted limbs should never be used? Should I buy a riser that has adjustable pockets to fix my twisted limbs?



Gosh, where to start? Let’s see: BS, BS, BS, BS. That about sums it up.

I attached an article I wrote about the closed stance, that might help. Currently there are few archers who have tried such a stance and even fewer who have thought about the benefits of one. To say it is “not as stable” is ridiculous/ludicrous/stupid in that NTS (National Training System) is supposed to be steeped in biomechanics. If it is less stable, they should be able to state biomechanically why it is less stable and that they do not. The NTS states that by taking an open stance and then twisting one’s torso, you make a more stable platform from which to shoot (true). My assumption is that the instructor made the leap from the open stance + twisting = more stable, to closed stance = less stable (unproven). But, what about closed stance with twisting? Would not that be as stable as open stance with twisting? I could argue that it would not be because the shoulders are 10-12 degrees closed to the target (Olympic recurve) so a 30 degree open stance requires the shoulders to be twisted 40+ degrees, but a 30 degree closed stance would only require 20 degrees of twist (the shoulders already being 10 degrees closed) … but that is not an argument you were given, no? Plus, if things are different, so what? Are they significantly different? Do the differences show up on a score card? If they don’t, then such things are just differences and not improvements. If the 20 degree twist is insufficient to make the desired stability, how about a 40 degree closed stance? Realize that from the sternum up, the archer’s triangle must be preserved and we are only talking about what happens below.

I have read both of Kisik Lee’s books a number of times and I can’t remember where he said that (about curling the fingers), plus I don’t think that it is true. The muscles that curl the fingers have nothing to do with making the arm straight or stiff, so what possible advantage could there be? The disadvantage is unwanted tension. Those who currently curl their fingers generally do so fairly gently, I believe. The purpose of that curling is to position the bow on the pad of the thumb, not for bow arm enhancement, in any case.

The equipment quote is brought to you by your training’s commercial sponsors! Think about it. If an Olympian wins a medal and he/she is using a three-year old bow, how does that look to the bow’s manufacturer? Consequently, when an archer gets close to the ability to win such medals, they become sponsored, which means they get their equipment at no or much reduced cost. A condition of those sponsorships is that the archers use the most current equipment (the equipment that is being sold now, not three years ago). It is easy for ordinary archers to believe that archers win because of their equipment, hence the marketing stance, but this is not true. All of the top coaches admit that bad or poorly set up or poorly tuned equipment can prevent good performance but good equipment can’t cause it; that is what the archer does. So, not only is the claim untrue, it is demonstrably false. At worst this is an attempt to shape coaches attitudes to push/sell gear. At best it is a naïve belief.

I believe the 1990 World Champion (I am working from memory here, so …) had limbs so badly twisted that people shooting next to him were fearful that the string was going to come off at full draw. (That can happen, by the way; it has happened to me.)

All a bow does is give an arrow a consistent initial speed (called the launch velocity) in a consistent direction. It is up to the archer to point the arrow correctly and operate the bow consistently to score well. All the bow does is push the arrow. Period. So, if a limb is mildly twisted, you may not get 100% of optimum performance, you may only get 99% or 98%, something you could correct for by increasing the bow’s draw weight a pound or maybe even less. Ideally, do I want a bow with untwisted limbs? Yes. But if my bow has slightly twisted limbs, is it dangerous? No. Will that fact alone limit my performance? My guess is that unless you were an elite performer, you would not notice any limitation. My guess is that before you personally would notice any such limitation, you will have worn out or out grown those limbs.

Also … I know of no limb pockets that correct for limb twist. Twisted limbs can be corrected (sometimes) by twisting them in the opposite direction and heating the limb with something like a hair dryer (then held in that position until cool). This is tricky and risky. The glues that hold the layers together are softened by the heat, allowing for some minor movement, changing the internal structure of the limb. But you could weaken the limb or cause it to delaminate (one layer separating from the next), so if you try this, go slowly and use the minimum amount of heat to get results. My recommendation, again, is to ignore it until you shoot well enough for it to be a factor (you are not “there” yet).

I am glad you got your Level 3-NTS certification. And I am glad you had questions. I strongly recommend that you never accept anything at face value, including what I tell you. Think about what you are being told. Work through it yourself. Form your own opinions. Also avoid the temptation to give BS answers (like the closed stance one). Three words you need to be able to say are: I don’t know.




Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

3 responses to “We Get Letters, Lots of Letters (Well, not Lots …)

  1. Don

    My 0.02 cents (that’s 2/100ths of a cent):

    1. After someone has verified your upper body is correct, open or close your stance as needed, perhaps half inch at a time to zero your natural horizontal point of aim. I don’t understand how this can be any less stable if you aren’t doing it so grossly that you are twisting your spine uncomfortably.

    2. Never heard of this finger curling thing. I shoot with relaxed fingers and teach relaxed fingers, and it seems like the more relaxed the better the results. Curling fingers could produce forearm tension. Tension in the forearms usually means you are doing something wrong.

    3. I’ve never met a good archer who is limited by decent quality late-model-year equipment, and I’ve never met a bad shooter in any shooting sport who successfully bought points. My target rig is inexpensive in archery terms, weighing in at about $650 of components carefully selected for value, and I expect to be out-shooting my past scores several times over before I ever (if ever) out-shoot the rig. If you have extra money, buy range time or a few good books or instruction, or best yet, get your wife/girlfriend/kid/parent/sibling a bow to shoot with you.

    4. If you have the cash and your precision has plateaued and you think it’s the limb replace them.

  2. Thanks, Don,
    You and I pretty much agree. The stance part is for long distance target archers only. Since the distances are so long, having a stable platform is really important. The NTS teaches that having a quite open stance and then twisting your upper body around to shoot, gives you a more stable body position, especially with regard to wind effects (blowing on you, not the arrow). The discussion centered on whether a closed stance was a viable option and my criticism is that almost no thought or discussion has occurred around the closed stance (because the open stance has become dogma, something accepted without reason).

    I can’t imagine a slightly twisted limb could result in a noticeable score plateau (could it be responsible for more than 1-3 points in a large round score?), so I think that would be a shooting in the dark attempt at a solution to plateauing.

    It would be interesting to see if someone with a shooting machine could establish just what the ‘performance cost” of a slightly twisted limbs is. My guess is that the limb would be a tiny bit less efficient (more energy going into vibration and less into the arrow) and that could be basically tuned out.

  3. Sarah T.

    Boy, oh boy, I sure am glad I’m not the only one who reads the recommendations of the NTS and smells fertilizer!

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